I wasn’t planning to post my favorite books read in 2008 here, but I had a request to do so since the link to the post at The Book Smugglers no longer went to it after their blog moved. I fixed the link to go to their fabulous new blog but figured I may as well post it here again as requested. So if you already read that, this is just a repeat of the same (but not as pretty, since I didn’t put the pictures back in).

The following is a list of my top 10 favorite books I’ve read this year (regardless of year of publication since only about 20% of the 54 I read were published this past year). To add some variety, I made a rule that I’m limiting one book per series to a list – otherwise, there would be a lot of repeat occurrences since I discovered some great new series this year. I am also going to forget about whether or not my head thought the book was worthy of a higher rating and go entirely with how much the book stuck with me and affected me personally.

1. The Virtu (#2 The Doctrine of Labyrinth) by Sarah Monette

The entire The Doctrine of Labyrinth series is my absolute favorite new book discovery of the year and The Virtu had the tightest plot and most interesting developments of the three. It’s dark, populated with two very different yet in some ways very similar characters with huge flaws and emotional issues – the wizard Felix Harrowgate and the assassin Mildmay. Both men were so well drawn that I couldn’t read enough about them. Monette is one of those authors who asks herself what the worst possible thing she can do to her characters is and then does it, so her books are far from cheery and light. They are gripping, intense and include some of the best characterization I’ve ever read. You can tell the author poured her heart and soul into those two characters, and considering Monette is a new novelist, I expect great things to come from her.

2. Shades of Dark (#2 Dock Five Universe) by Linnea Sinclair

Gabriel’s Ghost, the first book in this science fiction romance series was my first book by Linnea Sinclair. I suppose you could say I liked it since the day I finished it, I almost immediately went to the bookstore to buy the next one – and was halfway through it by the time I went to bed that night. With its darker tone, the newer book was my favorite of the two but both had an engaging storyline and characters I really cared about. They were both almost impossible to put down. It was days before I stopped thinking about these two books all the time and I have yet to get over the way Shades of Dark ended.

3. The Book of Joby by Mark Ferrari

Mark Ferrari’s impressive debut novel read like the author was an experienced writer. The Book of Joby is a modern retelling of the Book of Job from the Bible incorporated with the story of King Arthur. God and Lucifer meet over lattes in a New England coffee shop only to have the Devil challenge God to what the Creator refers to as “that same stupid bet.” The fate of the entire world depends on Joby, chosen as God’s candidate – if Joby fails, the entire world will be destroyed and redesigned according to Lucifer’s instructions. This story of one man’s struggle against great odds drew me in immediately and contained a great mixture of happy moments, tragedy, and humor.

4. The Player of Games (A Culture Novel) by Iain M. Banks

The Player of Games is intelligent space opera featuring a master of strategy games as the main character instead of an action/adventure hero. This was my introduction to the Culture and I found the idealistic future presented fascinating. Yet as wonderful as it appeared, Banks managed to paint a darker picture of it while making it still seem like a pretty good world to live in, especially in comparison to the glamorous Empire of Azad, in which racism, sexism, and cruelty run rampant. The Player of Games is a multi-layered story containing depth – yet it is highly entertaining and not at all dry.

5. The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman

This is without a doubt my favorite novel by Gaiman (none of his books are as awesome as his Sandman comics, though). His fantasy retelling of The Jungle Book details the adventures of a boy raised by the inhabitants of the local cemetery after the murder of his family. At once chilling and charming, touching and humorous, this was one absorbing creative tale I didn’t want to put down.

6. Blood and Iron (Promethean Age #1) by Elizabeth Bear

All four books in this urban fantasy series are excellent, including the two books in The Stratford Man duology released this summer. While the more recent books are stronger, the first one remains my favorite because I loved the characters Elayne and Whiskey so much. Intertwined with many mythologies from the British Isles (King Arthur, Tam Lin, Puck, and Morgan La Fey are all present), Bear’s Faerie is not out of a Disney cartoon but is rather grim with complex gray characters who have to make some difficult choices.

7. Primary Inversion (The Skolian Saga) by Catherine Asaro

The first book published in this romantic space opera series (containing some hard science fiction) holds a special place in my heart because it’s the first book that really convinced me that maybe I do like science fiction after all. The Skolian empaths/telepaths are in conflict with the Eubians, a race that derives pleasure from harming others – especially empaths. This one had it all – a great female character, intriguing societies, political intrigue, forbidden romance, and a pretty cool space battle!

8. Archangel Protocol (#1 AngelLINK series) by Lyda Morehouse

Archangel Protocol takes place in a not-too-distant future in which America no longer has separation between politics and religion. This fast-paced, difficult to put down novel contains some great ideas about society, a fun mystery, and some romance. I’ve decided to call it a cyberpunk mystery romance socio-religious/political adventure. It’s the only cyberpunk I’ve ever actually found enjoyable but sadly it is out of print.

9. A Companion to Wolves by Sarah Monette and Elizabeth Bear

A serious parody of animal companion tales based on Norse mythology about a band of men who bond with wolves to protect the people from trolls. In spite of their knowledge of battle, these defenders of the realm are seen as unmanly by many due to their homosexual practices. When a leader’s son is chosen by a wolf, he must contend with his father’s disdain if he wants to join the society as the wolf’s companion. This novel incorporates Bear’s handling of myth with both Bear and Monette’s ability to write deeply troubled characters – of course it’s one of my favorites of the year!

10. Wanderlust (#2 Jax series) by Ann Aguirre

Grimspace (the first book in this romantic space opera series) was difficult to put down, but this one was far better and impossible to put down. Fun, fast-paced, and a bit over the top, this one had me hooked from start to finish (it’s the only book I read this year that I finished in one day). Aguirre found an excellent balance between action and keeping the plot moving while exploring character relationships.

There you have it – my top 10 favorite books of 2008! So which books can I not wait for in 2009? There are three that top the list.

1. Corambis by Sarah Monette

The fourth and final book in The Doctrine of Labyrinth series will be out in April 2009. While I’ll be sad to see it end, I can’t wait to revisit my favorite characters and find out what happens to them. This is one of those books I will have to have as soon as it is out, even if it means walking to the bookstore in a blizzard (I live in Maine – blizzards in April are a very real possibility).

2. Hope’s Folly by Linnea Sinclair

The third book in the Dock 5 Universe is about Philip Guthrie, a character appearing in the first two books, and is scheduled for release in February 2009. Although I will miss Chaz and Sully, who are now some of my favorite characters of all time, this is another book that I’d go out in a blizzard for.

3. Kings and Assassins by Lane Robins

Even though it did not make it onto my top 10 list, I was very impressed with Robins’s debut novel Maledicte, a dark fantasy novel about a young woman possessed by the goddess of love and vengeance. Robins drew me in with lush prose and gray characters. This book is actually about Janus, who seemed more evil than gray but reading about evil characters can be fun. While I wouldn’t go out in a blizzard for this one, I will get it fairly soon after its release (also in April 2009).

Other books I’m looking forward to in 2009:

Blue Diablo (Corine Solomon #1) by Ann Aguirre
Doubleblind (Jax #3) by Ann Aguirre
By the Mountain Bound (#2 The Edda of Burdens) by Elizabeth Bear
Republic of Thieves (#3 Gentleman Bastards) by Scott Lynch – I’m hoping this will be out next year anyway!
A Dance with Dragons (#5 A Song of Ice and Fire) by George R. R. Martin – This is probably wishful thinking on my part since I’ve been hoping for it the last few years.

An Accidental Goddess
by Linnea Sinclair
464pp (Paperback)
My Rating: 6/10
Amazon Rating: 4/5
LibraryThing Rating: 3.95/5
Goodreads Rating: 4.54/5

An Accidental Goddess is a science fiction romance novel by Linnea Sinclair. It is a far future sequel to Wintertide, which I did not know until after reading this one. An Accidental Goddess is self-contained and makes perfect sense read on its own, though. I read this book right after Gabriel’s Ghost and Shades of Dark because I loved those two so much that I wanted to read more by Linnea Sinclair. However, as entertaining as An Accidental Goddess was, I thought the storyline and characters in the other two books were more complex and intriguing.

Gillie Davre, Raheiran Special Forces captain, awakens in a space station 342 years after her last memory, in which her ship was being attacked. That does not faze her nearly as much as the discovery that sometime during that 342 years, she was ordained a goddess by the Khalar. Her elevation was due to the “Sacred Sacrifice” she made in the fight against the enemy, the Fav’lhir – an act believed to have resulted in her death. In addition to being the savior of the Khalar, Gillie is also part of the mageline, meaning she has telepathic powers that seem godlike to the Khalar. Many of the facts about Gillie have been forgotten, leaving a lot of myths that Gillie is not comfortable with. Since she does not want to interfere with a people’s long held religious tradition, she determines to hide her identity the best she can.

Soon after awakening in sick bay, Gillie meets Admiral Rynan Mackarian, known as “Mack.” The practical Mack immediately falls for beautiful Gillie and her lavender-green eyes, even though he initially fears she may be a smuggler. Gillie likes Mack as well but is finding it difficult to get close to him while constantly lying to hide her identity and the truth about how she ended up on the space station. Soon she uncovers a plot by her old enemy the Fav’lhir and may be the only one who can save the people of Khalar once again.

An Accidental Goddess is a light, somewhat humorous story and the pages flew by, but I just did not connect with it the same way as Linnea Sinclair’s Dock Five books. It might not be fair to compare this one to the two Dock Five books, but I can’t help it since I read this one after enjoying those ones. I really wanted to read more books like those and this book was very different. That’s not at all a bad thing since reading about the same basic characters and the same basic plot would get boring. I just found I did not love any of the characters nearly as much as the ones from the other books and this one did not resonate with me the same way. It was a much simpler story, not as dark, and very predictable.

The fun-loving, down to earth Gillie is likable enough. Being ordained as a goddess did not go to her head at all – in fact, she was quite horrified to find a shrine dedicated to her, thinking a pub built in her honor would be more appropriate. She was too good for my taste, though. Gillie’s powers are used for unselfish reasons, such as helping others or defeating the bad guys. The consequences of holding great power was not a struggle for her. Her big problem was that her powers were glorified and I find it more interesting to read about such awesome abilities being demonized, or at least having some sort of big dilemma involved. Gillie could still get herself into trouble but it tended to be for all the right reasons.

Mack, the typical nice guy, was also a bit too upright for me. He’s a very efficient, hard-working man who is the youngest admiral in the Khalaran Fleet, at 43. He had realistic struggles such as worrying about Gillie falling for a younger, more fit man, but overall, he did not have any huge quandaries. He was very realistic as an overall good person with minor human issues, but I prefer reading about people who are more complicated with a morally gray side.

The story itself was straightforward played out very much as expected. The idea of not only waking up in the future but waking up to find a whole people worshipped you was interesting initially but I felt it was a bit drawn out. It was mainly used as a humorous plot device as Gillie kept getting herself into funny situations.

An Accidental Goddess is an entertaining, straightforward story with some romance and humor. It’s a good book, but I would recommend Linnea Sinclair newbies looking for something a little less light start with Gabriel’s Ghost instead.


Other Reviews:

Based on recent conversations at the Dragon Federation, the response to Jeff’s question based on that discussion over at Fantasy Book News & Reviews, and the latest post at Racy Romance Reviews, I’ve changed the RSS feed to full text. I never really thought it mattered that much if it was partial or full since personally it doesn’t matter to me if it’s a partial feed or full when I subscribe to a blog. But I see it matters an awful lot to most other people, so I’m making it more convenient.


The March Blogger Book Club selection has been chosen by Joe of Adventures in Reading. The book club will be held from March 9 – 15 and the book is The Parable of the Sower by Octavia Butler. I’ve been wanting to read a book by this author for a while so I plan to get the book and read it before that week. Hopefully I’ll have better luck with that one than I did Schismatrix Plus (which I tried to read twice and then gave up on since I was already in the middle of one book and didn’t have a lot of time for reading at the moment anyway). For bloggers who want to participate, all you have to do is read the book, put up a review during that week, and link to/discuss the other reviews. It’s rather informal.

Mulluane from Dragons, Heroes and Wizards recently proposed setting up an SFF Blog Forum. The Dragon Federation has already been set up and this blog and many others have their own sections. After I get caught up with reviews, I’ll have to spend some more time over there.

Tia at Fantasy Debut suggested holding a Book Blogger Convention and set up a Book Blogger Convention Blog for discussing the idea. It would be a lot of fun, but I suspect it will be too far away for me to go even if there is an East Coast and West Coast con. I’ll definitely be keeping an eye on it, though – just in case.

Miles, Mystery, and Mayhem
by Lois McMaster Bujold
576pp (Paperback)
My Rating: 8/10
Amazon Rating: 3.5/5
LibraryThing Rating: 4.16/5
Goodreads Rating: 4.13/5

Miles, Mystery & Mayhem contains three stories in the Miles Vorkosigan series by Lois McMaster Bujold: the novel Cetaganda, the novel Ethan of Athos, and the novella Labyrinth (originally published in Borders of Infinity). It also has a 4 page afterward written by Bujold. Chronologically, this omnibus comes after the Young Miles collection in this space opera series, although it can be read as a stand alone book. All three stories share the common themes of genetic technology and reproduction and tie together with events in Cetaganda, even though that was the last published of the three.

In Cetaganda, Miles and his cousin Ivan have been sent to the planet Cetaganda for the funeral of the Dowager Empress. When they dock on the planet, a man barges in to their ship and leaves behind a strange object after a brief fight. Miles coerces Ivan into keeping the encounter a secret and soon finds himself embroiled in a mystery involving the genomes kept by the haut women of Cetaganda and the murder of the person who came into their ship.

Ethan of Athos is not actually about Miles Vorkosigan, although he is mentioned on occasion since Elli Quinn of the Dendarii Fleet plays a major role in the novel. Ethan is a doctor with the important job of creating life on the all-male planet of Athos. The development of the uterine replicator and genetic technology has made it possible to have children without the presence of women; however, many of the fetuses are no longer surviving. To solve the problem, Athos orders some new ovarian cultures but when the package arrives it is full of useless parts. Ethan is sent to Jackson’s Whole to inspect potential cultures to ensure this does not happen again. What he does not expect is to find himself entangled in a plot involving the mysterious shipment Athos never received – and protected by Elli Quinn, one of those evil female creatures he has been warned against his entire life.

Labyrinth features Miles as his persona Admiral Naismith of the Dendarii Fleet. Miles is on a mission to retrieve the great bio engineer Dr. Canaba for Barrayar. While Dr. Canaba has accepted Barrayar’s offer to work for them, the house he works for will not let him go willingly. The plan becomes complicated when Dr. Canaba contacts Miles to say he will not leave with him unless Miles will obtain some samples for him. Canaba hid some genetic materials in the leg of one of the creatures he engineered to be a species perfect for war. Unfortunately, that morning his employer sold the werewolf-like girl, not knowing about the great value of the hidden sample. Now it’s up to Miles to somehow recover the important specimen and secure Dr. Canaba’s services for Barrayar.

Cetaganda and Labyrinth both sucked me in right away, but Ethan of Athos was a bit harder to get into initially. The highlight of the books in this series is the character of Miles, a brilliant disfigured dwarf who has a knack for getting himself (and his friends) into a lot of trouble. He is inquisitive, somewhat reckless, very energetic, and his character leaps off the pages. The lack of Miles as a main character is very noticeable in Ethan of Athos since it does not have the vibrance he brings to Cetaganda, which comes right before this story. This may partially be due to the fact that Cetaganda was written about 10 years after Ethan of Athos, which was only Bujold’s third novel. However, The Warrior’s Apprentice was her second novel and Miles definitely gave that one the personality that Ethan of Athos was lacking.

Ethan of Athos was also the least humorous of the three stories, again likely because Miles was missing. Cetaganda and Labyrinth were both engaging and entertaining reads with which I had a lot of fun. While Miles often got into funny situations and introduced a lot of sarcastic humor, the two stories also dealt with more thought-provoking serious topics like eugenics and social structures.

Although Ethan of Athos was the weakest of the three stories, I thought it did have the most interesting social structure – the planet of Athos. Athos was basically a monastery with men only but set on a planet instead of a building so women really were a mystery to these men. It gave an interesting portrait of what a world of men only would be like, what survival would be like for them if they did have the technology for creating life by themselves, and what meeting a woman for the first time would be like.

Miles, Mystery & Mayhem was an immensely entertaining read despite the relative weakness of the second novel, which was still not bad by any means. I am not tired of Miles, even after four novels and two novellas, and certainly want to keep reading more about this snarky dwarf admiral nobleman intelligence man.


Reviews of other books in the series:

The Healthy Dead
by Steven Erikson
128pp (Hardcover)
My Rating: 8/10
Amazon Rating: 4.5/5
LibraryThing Rating: 4.12/5
Goodreads Rating: 4.15/5

The Healthy Dead by Steven Erikson is a novella taking place in the world of the Malazan Book of the Fallen series. This epic fantasy series currently contains 8 books and is supposed to end up 10 volumes long (although there are supposed to be more books written in the world after that). There are other novels related to the series written by Ian Cameron Esslemont, who created the world with Erikson. In addition to the novels, there are 2 other novellas, Blood Follows (review) and The Lees of Laughter’s End.

As is the case with the other Malazan novellas, The Healthy Dead is a story about the adventures of the necromancers Bauchelain and Korbal Broach and their manservant Emancipor Reese, who are introduced in the third book in the series Memories of Ice. It takes place after Blood Follows, but it is a self-contained, darkly humorous story and could be read as a stand alone book. However, since Blood Follows does include the rather amusing story of how Reese came to work for his employers, I’d recommend reading that one first.

After causing chaos in their last destination, Bauchelain, Korbal Broach, and Reese arrive in the remote city of Quaint, where they are offered money by two Saints of Glorious Labor to remove their king from power. King Macrotus the Overwhelmingly Considerate is far worse than his corrupt brother was – he has made “good living” the law of the land. Alcohol and drug use, red meat, and gambling are outlawed and exercise regiments are required. Those who lead a healthy life are displayed in a place of honor after death but those who die unhealthy are hung along the city wall. The two saints would prefer the straightforward usual abuse of power, in which they were mostly left alone as long as they didn’t harm anyone too important and a good bribe could solve many problems.

Bauchelain is very much tempted by this challenge, particularly because this zeal for goodness will have dire consequences, as he explains to Reese:

Desire for goodness, Mister Reese, leads to earnestness. Earnestness, in turn, leads to sanctimonious self-righteousness, which breeds intolerance, upon which harsh judgment quickly follows, yielding dire punishment, inflicting general terror and paranoia, eventually culminating in revolt, leading to chaos, then dissolution, and thus, the end of civilisation.

Bauchelain finds the ethics of this situation intrigues him and decides to help. Therefore, he enlists Korbal Broach to employ his necromantic skills of resurrection and sends Reese into the city, where he infiltrates the religious order by posing as the prophesied first Saint of Glorious Labor. One way or another, they will restore corruption and civilization to the city!

Unlike the usual tomes written in the series, The Healthy Dead is a quick read at 128 pages with large print and some illustrations. I read it in a little over an hour and I am not at all a fast reader. Without the bloat accompanying the typical Malazan novel, this was a stronger work than the novels in the series I have read. It is straightforward and not a word is wasted. The dialogue is humorous and I thought this novella was more entertaining with a better sense of dark humor than its predecessor Blood Follows, particularly when combined with an illustration of the danger of any extreme, no matter how well-meaning.

The society was well-developed and intriguing without containing pages and pages of backstory and history. Many fantasy authors have written about the all-powerful corrupt ruler, and reading about the problems caused by a ruler who took goodness to a tyrannical extreme was an interesting change of pace. King Macrotus may have had good intentions, but restricting his people for their own good did not endear him to anyone.

The Healthy Dead is an entertaining, humorous novel about a city doomed by its leader’s obsession with good living. Out of all the Malazan books I have read, this one is easily my favorite.


Reviews of other books in this series:

Blood Follows